Slashing the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been an annual tradition in Washington, D.C., for most of the 55-year-old program’s history, but no longer.
In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Republican and Democratic senators gathered Wednesday to cheer a deal with President Trump on legislation to provide permanent, full funding at $900 million per year for the LWCF, which provides matching grants for public-lands investments.
The agreement, now expected to secure congressional approval as well as Mr. Trump’s signature, includes passage of the Restore Our Parks Act, which would deliver $1.3 billion annually for five years to tackle the $12 billion maintenance backlog at the national parks.
Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, said that after meeting last week with Mr. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “we had the breakthrough that we have been looking for.”
“This is an incredible opportunity, an incredible moment for conservation, a historic conservation accomplishment,” Mr. Gardner said at the press conference.
Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, said that Mr. McConnell agreed to bring the proposal to the Senate floor for a vote if Mr. Trump would ensure that he would sign the legislation. The president tweeted his support for the conservation agreement Tuesday.
“Cory and I both shared pictures from Colorado and Montana, and he [Mr. Trump] was taken aback by the beauty of our states, and what the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as the national parks do,” said Mr. Daines. “It was a great moment. He committed to doing it.”
The senators refused to discuss the political horse-trading, but it’s true that Mr. Gardner faces a tough reelection fight in November against the likely Democratic nominee, former Gov. John Hickenlooper.
In Montana, Mr. Daines could find himself facing Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who is reportedly planning to enter the primary race by Monday’s filing deadline. Both Mr. Bullock and Mr. Hickenlooper briefly ran for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Environmentalists cheered the announcement even as they blasted the Trump administration for failing to fund fully the LWCF in previous budgets.
After Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday for Congress to send him a bill that “permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks,” Center for Western Priorities deputy director Aaron Weiss retorted, “You have proposed de-funding #LWCF every year of your presidency. Sit down.”
Mr. Daines said that the fund received $495 million in the previous budget, short of the full $900 million, but the most since 2003. The program has been fully funded only twice in its history, according to Ducks Unlimited.
“In fact, this administration has funded LWCF at a higher level than going back 16 years,” said Mr. Daines. “Then, last year if you remember, we permanently reauthorized LWCF. This was kind of camp two in getting to the summit.”
Not happy about the deal was Rep. Paul Gosar, Arizona Republican, who tweeted that the LWCF’s grants to purchase and provide easements on land and water for public use have been “hijacked by environmentalists to lock up land & water across the West.”
Still, the mood at the press conference was buoyant. Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, said that 68 senators signed one or both of the bills, “and that’s pretty amazing,” and hailed the conservation deal as “an opportunity, once in a lifetime, and we’re not going to let it slip by.”
“You’re accustomed to politicians overstating things,” said Sen. Angus King, Maine Independent. “I think it is a fair statement to say this legislation, the two major parts of it, will be the most significant conservation legislation enacted by Congress in at least a half century.”